Posts From December 2007

Monday By Noon

Jonathan’s site, Monday By Noon is a great idea. I always thought posting once a week on Mondays would be a runaway concept.

Jonathan writes on web design once a week and publishes his article every Monday before noon so you can have something to read during your lunch break. Jonathan introduced himself to me a few weeks ago, and I’ve been rummaging through his archives ever since.

My guess is that many of you would like what Jonathan is writing so I wanted to point out his site. And to save you some time he conveniently posted some 2007 highlights.

5 Things to Do In Colorado While On Christmas Vacation

  1. Go Snowboarding at Vail
  2. Get a tall americano from Crowfoot Valley Coffee Co. Every day
  3. Wrap the presents I had shipped to my folk’s house
  4. Drink egg nog
  5. Destroy my wife, brothers, and sister-in-law in pool

Geek Gift Guide

Putting nerdy stuff on my Christmas list has always been a bit embarrassing.

I’m the only computer nerd in the family, and I could just imagine the look on my mom’s face if I were to ask for more RAM for my Mac Pro. But JM has put together a very well-thought-out Geek Gift Guide. If you’ve got a nerd in the family that isn’t asking for anything nerdy you could do them a huge favor and get them something from here.

The Full Mint-y

Everyone has that moment when the spark of inspiration hits and they decide to publish a website.

Any sort of website. Perhaps an online cat-food shop, a photo journalism e-school, or a weblog about Star Wars Pizza Hut cup-toppers figurine collections. The options are endless, but the motivation is the same: To give something to the world. (Or to make a lot of money.)

And why not share your passions with people from all across the globe? Back before the internet people had to hand-write by candlelight using feathers and ink on parchment paper. And then if they were even fortunate enough to get their book or article printed perhaps local general store might be able to sell a few copies.

But now you can sit in Starbucks with your cappucino and your iPod while hammering away on your laptop. With one tap of the “Publish” button all the world can read your ideas and comment on your cup-topper collection.

At first you start your website for noble purposes. But after a while when you notice a few new people commenting on your posts you start to wonder, “just how many people read this thing anyway?” And that’s when it starts…

Even though you keep reminding yourself that it’s not about the traffic every time you get a boost in visitors, or a post gets extra comments, or someone new subscribes to your feed your heart skips a beat.

On the other hand, there are many perfectly logical reasons for keeping an eye on your website’s traffic and readership. Such as: Discovering the primary search terms that are driving traffic, or seeing who’s referring traffic in your direction, and more…

You can use whatever reasoning you like, but if you have a website you will use some sort of analytics program. So may I suggest you use one that rocks?

Mint: A Fresh Look at Your Site

Good Taste

I have often wondered why, but there are some people who will order a steak at Denny’s or Village Inn. They want it cooked well-done, (if it comes any other way) and they coat it in A1 Steak-Sauce (to add flavor). But they don’t even bat an eye. To them, a steak is a steak. It’s the name “steak” that tells them they’re living large. And they seem oblivious to the taste of the overcooked, gritty meat.

And then there are people like my good friend Josh from Texas. He will spend an entire day on Saturday preparing meat for a grill-out on Sunday. He tenderizes and marinates the cuts. Then he cooks it all to perfection, and we all savor every bite because it’s goooood.

And Shaun Inman‘s Mint is a website analytics program for those kinds of people: The people who highly appreciate spectacular (and tasty) things.

In a recent Be A Design Cast Interview Shaun Inman gave a brief explanation of how Mint came to be -

What Mint came from is that I had my own personal site and I never found a stats package that fit my needs. They had the rainbow graphs. All this information I didn’t need, and they took a day to render stats. I started playing around with PHP and MySQL, I took all these things that other people were suggesting and created this thing called Mint and wrapped it up in this nice design package. And really the idea was just to have this stats package that was just barebones, no-nonsense, “give me what I want to look at”. The number of hits I’m getting, where they’re coming from, what they’re looking at… So I built this little application, and I launched it two years ago and it was this cool suprise success.

Version 1

The graphical interface from Mint 1 is very much like the debut of Aqua from OS X 10.0 – in that both were huge breakthroughs in interface design in their respective markets. Both looked completely different and much more appealing than anything else people were using at the time.

I thought it would be fun to reminisce and look at a few screenshots of what Mint Version 1 looked like. So scroll down slowly and enjoy…

A Mint Install on Day One: September 2005

Dustin Diaz's Mint Install

Ben Gray's old Mint install

The Full Minty

And before it was even released the beta testers were singing it’s praises. So while we’re remminiscing, here are some excerpts from a few of the beta testers’ initial reviews.

Rob Weychert, “Mint: A Stats Odyssey” -

I have owned a few web sites in my day, and like anyone who makes their work available to the public, I like to know the whos, how manys, from wheres, and so on, of the people checking out my stuff. Luckily for me and my fellow narcissistic publishers, there are plenty of stats packages out there that can inform us how many hits our sites have gotten, where our visitors are coming from, what browsers they use, and much more. Unluckily, most of those stats packages suffer from shortcomings that undermine their usefulness. Every one I tried either focused on one narrow statistic or presented me with more information than I knew what to do with.

Jason Santa Maria, “Pepper Makes Mint Better” -

…word on the street is Mint even has an Easter Egg. Needless to say, I haven’t touched Refer in all the months of beta testing. Shaun did it, I’m a convert.

Mike Davidson, “Mint: The Flavor of The Month” -

It’s not Urchin, it’s not Analog, and it’s not designed to record every single hit to your website since the beginning of time. But that is its strength.

Form and Function

The initial structure and feel of Mint hasn’t changed much, but it has certaily been spruced up since 2005. In version one the first thing you noticed was Mint’s clean, beautiful look.

And the same goes with version two, but it’s even better. Have a look-see. (With the Dark Pepper Mint style installed.)

The Mint Interface

And just for fun, let’s compare the daily hits/visitors pane from Mint with the same pane from Webalizer…

Mint UI versus the Webalizer UI

Now onto Function….

Mint lives and breathes within the panes. This is where all the information you want to see about your site can be found. Not only are the panes an intelligent implementation of your data, they are full of fine detail.

Talk about form and function: Mint’s panes are a seamless blend of the two.

Each pane serves up a specific class of data. Such as “Visits”, “Referrers”, “Pages”, “Searches” and more. But within each pane is not just a generic list of numbers. There are several tabs to serve these numbers up in different, useful dishes.

For example, take the Referrers pane. Just mash down on any one of the four tabs to see information about referrers to your site in a different, but still very useful way.

The Referrers Pane Tabs

Moreover, an additional bonus to the Newest Unique tab is the RSS feed it offers. Here you can subscribe to the newest unique referrers to your site and track them from the comfort of your favorite reader. This provides a fantastic way to keep tabs on new, incoming links to your site. Which ultimately leads to the Mint High-Five, but I’ll get to that later.

Another helpful pane is “Searches”. Here you can see your most common queries that land people to your site. This is more than just “oh, neat” information. By knowing what people are searching for, you are secretly informed on which Star Wars cup-topper is the most popular. It can be extremely helpful if you want your site to be more relevant and visitor friendly.

For me, the light turned on when I saw that there was one particular search that was dominating for keywords: “iPhone Tips”. Over the past few months that search query has sent ten times more Googlers to my site than any other search, and they all are landing on the same page: my iPhone Tips and Tutorials List.

When I saw that thanks to Google my iPhone tips page was the second most popular landing page on my site I decided to put a little bit (emphasis on little) of effort into warming the page up to newcomers.

All these stats aren’t exclusive to Mint, of course. There are certainly other other analytics programs which inform you of searches and visitors too. But when you’re looking at ugly charts your eyes can get blurred and your brain can turn off and you can easily miss out on important information.

In the end though, it’s always the little things that stand out to me. My favorite graphical element in Mint is the transparent cross-hatches at the top of the screen. They sit just under the navigation bar.

They’re discreet, sly and add the finishing touch to an overall superb design.

The Transparent Cross-Hatches at the top of the Mint panes

Now pause, and think about this: How was Shaun able to get numbers and URLs to look so incredible and feel so noble? Thanks to Mint, even our puny site stats still seem stunning and exciting.

Setting Up Mint

To use Mint you need your own hosted domain and your hosting server needs support for MySQL and PHP to setup the database. This is basically the same thing a good CMS needs, and if you’re paying more than $2 a month for hosting you should be fine. (If you’re looking for a good hoster, Mint and I both recommend (mt).)

Installing Mint is a cinch. You fill in your database info, upload the folder and then follow the instructions. If you’re not too savvy with phpMyAdmin, there is a great step-by-step guide for setting up a database and user on the WordPress Codex site.

If you need some assistance configuring Mint with your CMS here are some helpful threads from the Mint forums:

Pepper

Even if all we got were the basic functions bundled with Mint – or a “Thin Mint” install – it would still be worth the cost. But Shaun has opened the app for 3rd party developers to create additional “plugins” called Pepper – as in Peppermint.

By adding Pepper to your Mint installation you are able to expand its capabilities. And thanks to the many 3rd party developers that have produced some fantastic additions, there is a wide variety of fantastic peppers available to widen the scope of your Mintabilities.

I have a pretty small Pepper lineup on my Mint installation. Other than the bundled “Default” and “Backup/Restore” peppers I only have the “User Agent 007″, “Trends”, “Outbound” and “iPhone” peppers installed.

The Peppers I have installed Here’s what they do:

  • The Default Pepper covers the basics. It is responsible for tracking the number of page views and unique visitors, where they are coming from and what they are looking at, as well as which search terms led them to my site. These statistics are displayed within four data-specific panes. Note: It is always a bummer to see the latest 15 referrers to your site as Google Images domains. Ramanan posted a list of all the google images sites to enter in to the Referrers Prefs panell so they don’t show up in your newest unique list. For archive’s sake, I posted the list as a text file, here. Just select all, copy and paste. Google Images websites to not show in the unique referrals list
  • Backup/Restore does not record or display any data in Mint. It is simply a utility to backup and restore my Mint database tables. Though I have yet to need it.
  • User Agent 007 goes undercover to uncover who’s using which browser on which platform at what resolution and with which plug-ins installed.
  • Trends simply tracks trends across a specified period. Such as which permalinks are up or down in page views compared to last weeks.
  • The Outbound Pepper tracks clicks to links on external sites.
  • The iPhone Pepper enables single-column mode in Mint when browsing from an iPhone—leaving the default multi-column experience for the desktop. Mint on the iPhone is gorgeous.

You can find a list of all the Peppers at at Mint’s Peppermill or at the Peppermint Tea site.

Junior Mint, The Dashboard Widget

24 hours on the Daring Fireball Linked List When checking your stats is only an F12 (or F4) away, the the Junior Mint Dashboard Widget can get addicting.

If you’re not using Mint version 2, or your not on OS X 10.4+ there is still a solution for you. You can use the Stale Mint widget for Mint 1, a Yahoo Widget, or a Windows Vista sidebar gadget.

The dashboard widget combined with your Newest Unique Referrers Feed make a great pair. Going hand in hand for discovering and then determining the source of a new traffic spike. When you notice on your Widget that more visitors are coming in than normal you can open your feed reader and check the Referrers List to see who’s sending the traffic.

The Com-mint-ity

More than the design and the functionality of Mint, there is also a community of users. Rob Goodlatte nails it saying,

It’s one thing to have a lot of customers, but it’s an amazing accomplishment to have so many customers who are rabid fans of the product — like everyone I know who uses Mint.

Mint is being worked on, developed and used by people just like you and me. It truly is what Shaun wanted it to be: A simple, fantastic, beautiful, “show me what I want to see” application. It is fun to use, it’s constantly updated, and there is a community of happy Mint users.

Which brings us to the high-five…

One way the Mint community connects is through what I like to think of as the Mint Referrer High-Five. There is something about seeing someone-elses-site.com/mint/ in your referrers list that tells you they were intrigued, and wanted to see why your site was showing up in their referrers list. They wanted to know what you were saying and why you were sending them traffic, so they came over to check things out.

Their …/mint/ referral showing up in you referrer’s list is like a high-five from them to you.

A Visit From haveamint.com/mint

As long as were on the topic of community, other Minters include Sean Sperte, Panic Software, John Gruber, Ben Gray, Dave Caolo, Kevin Cornell, Glenn Wolsey, Cameron Hunt, Michael Lopp and of course – Shaun Inman.

More Reviews

This is just one of a handful of winded and entertaining software reviews.

Refreshed

ShawnBlanc.net got a live refresh over the past 24 hours. If you’re in your feed reader, come on over and see for yourself.

99

Today, my Grandfather turns 99.

He’s Italian, goes out to breakfast every morning at the local cafe, paints every afternoon, loves Harry Potter and still tells the best jokes.

I just called him on his cell phone to find out he rented a tuxedo for the day. Happy Birthday, Grandpa.

Passionless Content

In September I wrote an article, “Content Please“. I think it’s relevant to the current discussion going around about the emotionless links and “re-blogs” of tumble blogs.

I think people are afraid to show emotion or passion through their site in fear of not sounding intelligent or sophisticated. But what draws people into what you have to say is the passion.

Dear Readers,

On Sunday I had around 450 readers subscribed to my RSS feed. Today there are just over 750, which means quite a few of you reading this are new, and I wanted to say hello.

And you of course are welcome to say hi back (even if you’re not new).

Thanks for reading.

  • Shawn

The Little Red Writing Book

The Little Red Writing Book“20 Powerful Principles of Structure, Style and Readability”

I picked this book up on a whim at Barnes & Noble last Christmas when searching for a Secret Santa gift.

It’s got short chapters. It’s very clear, informative and fun to read and has a fantastic layout and type-setting. And that’s all on top of the excellent writing and style resources.

I’ve had several conversations with other bloggers lately regarding writing and style. So I pulled my copy off the shelf yesterday and started reading it again. If you want to write better, I highly recommend this book.

Midwest Ice Storm

An ice storm that’s hitting the midwest is leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

In Oklahoma 500,000 are without power, and the power company expects it to be a week to 10 days before everyone gets their lights back on.

The power went out at my neighborhood in Kansas City this morning at 5:00 AM. When the rain freezes onto the power lines the weight of the ice causes the lines to break and we watched about a dozen transformers blow all across the neighborhood. It looked like bombs going off.

Greg Reinacker Switched

“Macs Sell Themselves”

Greg Reinacker, founder of NewsGator, recently got himself his first Mac, and he explains why.

If you’re a Mac user, the 2nd half of his article will surely put a smile on your face. Here’s one of my favorite lines:

Suddenly I started seeing Macs everywhere – conferences, coffee shops, you name it. I’d ask people about them – and every person I can remember said they loved it. I’d turn on my Vaio, and wait a couple of minutes for Vista to boot, and all the while admire their fancy Macbook Pro awaking nearly instantly from sleep (because I’ve rarely seen anyone actually turn off their Mac).

Anxiety – Lightweight To-do Management

Anxiety – Lightweight To-do Management

Leopard only, and wow. It is lightweight in deed.

For what it’s built to do it looks like it does it perfectly. Add a to-do item in Anxiety and it puts it in your Mail and iCal to-dos as well. Perhaps not the ideal application for the heavy GTDer but probably a god-send for the average, “I need help keeping track of my things to do”er.

And it’s free. Hello.

NetNewsWire: Just What You Wanted

NetNewsWire is arguably the most popular desktop feed reader on the planet.

That does not, however, mean that NetNewsWire is the most popular RSS reader, period. Far from it, actually. Web-based feed readers seem to be dominating the market share. (Worth noting is Greg Reinacker’s article unraveling part of the mystery behind the growing domination of online feed readers.)

I wasn’t able to find any cut and dry feed reader market share stats that were any more recent than the ones FeedBurner published two years ago. But based on various articles, conversations and website statistics it is pretty clear that online readers are the most popular feed reader. Specifically Google Reader. Just look at your own site’s stats, and I’m sure they’ll concur. (For the most part.)

According to the stats for ShawnBlanc.net, 75% of readers are subscribed to my feed through an online reader. Of that total online readership Google takes up 49%, NewsGator 26%, Apple RSS (various) takes 8%, Firefox Live Bookmarks takes 5%, Bloglines 4%, and various other online readers add up to the final 8%. (With 1% too much because I rounded up.)

The remaing 25% of my subscribers are using desktop feed readers. With NetNewsWire accounting for over 50% of my desktop reader’s market share, or 13% of the total market share for ShawnBlanc.net

In addition to being the most popular desktop feed reader for ShawnBlanc.net, NetNewsWire’s built in browser is the fourth most used browser for viewing this site. Right after Safari, Firefox and IE.

NetNewsWire's Browser Market Share on ShawnBlanc.net

Web-Based Feed Readers

My intention here is not to sway 75% of my readers away from your online feed readers. I am aware that there are many reasons you may use an online reader. Such as:

  • Nothing to Download and Install: If you’re reading feeds on not-your-computer on a regular basis this is a convenient feature indeed.
  • Universal Uniformity and Syncronization: Your reader looks the same and acts the same and is always just how you left it no matter what computer you access it from. This can be very helpful (or very un-pet-peevish) if you work in a cubicle on a windows machine and then come home to a Mac. The advantages of having your feeds synced between multiple computers can be huge. And if you’re reading feeds on multiple platforms an online feed reader is pretty much the only option. UPDATE: Tom from Evolvepoint mentions that NetNewsWire syncs with the complete NewsGator RSS suite which includes the PC application, FeedDemon. I don’t use a PC so I hadn’t even considered FeedDemon.
  • Free: Online feed readers are free feed readers. That’s always nice. The draw of using a free feed reader is a big one. Especially if that free reader is powerful enough to handle all your feed needs and leave you with a smile at the end of the day. But in my experience I’ve noticed two major drawbacks to using free readers: First off is the interface. No offense, but Google reader is not very exciting to look at. And secondly, many of the free desktop readers I’ve tried out are sorely lacking in usability, options and developer support.

If you’re using a web-based feed reader because it’s free, you need to take a look at the upcoming release of NetNewsWire Lite 3.1 (the free version of NNW), because those who refuse to pay for their feed reader are in for a real treat. But more on that in a minute.

Getting The Perfect Gift

Giving someone the perfect gift is not easy. Tons of clueless husbands have botched it up anniversary after anniversary. Countless grandparents have resorted to just giving away cash at Christmas. And why do you suppose the gift card is so darn popular?

My uncle, on the other hand, is a superb gift giver. Every year at Christmas he finds the thing you never knew existed, and most certainly never would have asked for. And when you unwrap it, you realize it’s exactly what you wanted.

Discovering the perfect program is quite a bit like receiving the perfect gift.

But it’s not easy to find a piece of software that is exactly what we want, when we ourselves often don’t know exactly what it is we want.

Sometimes we find it on accident. Sometimes we find it on a hunt for an unknown solution to a problem. Usually we find it by a random combination of both…

Sunday Morning

For me, it started a few years ago on a Sunday morning while I was at church.

My church has wireless internet, which is ideal for downloading the Sunday morning notes. It is also ideal for checking email and reading blogs when I’m supposed to be listening.

Let me back-track a bit…

This would be quiet a different story if I had not been introduced to personal blogs only a few months prior.

Additionally, if it had not been for the illustrious blogroll which inhabited every sidebar, I never would have been introduced to the lives of other people whom I’d never met and who barely knew how to put a sentence together. Within a few short months of reading sites and following sidebar links I had compiled (within a bookmarks folder) well over 15 different blogs!

To keep up with these sites I would open my bookmarks folder about three or four times a week and visit each blog one at a time as I casually checked up on the latest story.

Visiting each site one at a time is more personal and relaxing for sure. But it didn’t take long for my list of 15 sites to grow into the low-twenties. As I began checking in daily, the task of keeping up became more and more tedious. Eventually my reading time turned into Russian Roulette – Blog Style. Keeping up with the new articles was quickly becoming less and less fun. I needed a way to know what sites had new content so I could spend my time reading instead of looking. I needed an RSS reader. And I didn’t even know it.

This brings us back to the Sunday morning in which I casually glanced over at my friend’s PowerBook. He had his feeds pulled up in Safari’s feed reader.

“What in the world?!” I thought.

He was reading news headlines and articles from all sorts of different websites, and they were all put together neatly into one window. Incredible. I didn’t know exactly what I was seeing but I instantly recognized its potential to solve my problem. By the end of the sermon I had subscribe to all my favorite blog’s feeds using Safari and the church’s wireless.

But let’s be honest. Anyone using Safari’s RSS reader as a serious point of entry for information will quickly discover that it doesn’t cut it. And just as Brian had predicted, the Safari RSS reader contributed to the sale of a dedicated feed reader. Because within a week I was already looking for something better.

It wasn’t until after I fumbled around with a few not-so-great readers that I came accross Brent Simmon‘s smash hit RSS reader, NetNewsWire.

I first jumped on board with NetNewsWire Lite 2.1, and I used it for several months until Brent and Ranchero released the 3.0 full version. I downloaded the free trial and was blown away once again. Seriously. The interface, the layout, the simplicity. Everything. I was hooked, and my wallet was 29 dollars lighter.

NetNewsWire has changed my expectation for Mac application development. I’m not a programmer, but Brent and his Eddy Award winning program have been an onramp for me to learn more about the indie Mac Development community, and that is why I’m so fond of this application. NNW has become a marker to me for when my eyes were opened to the many heroes of the Mac community who create amazing software and make our OS X lives that much better.

NetNewsWire

What makes NetNewsWire so great is that it at once appeals to every level of user.

For the basic user who checks a few feeds once a day, NNW provides a familiar and friendly environment. For an average user who has several dozen feeds to keep up on, NNW is quick and effective. And even the power user, who lives and breaths inside their feed reader, will discover that NNW has the horsepower to feed their need for feeds.

From the NNW homepage, Cory Doctorow says, “This is the app that lets me drink straight from the Internet firehose, and I couldn’t live without it.”

At its initial launch, NNW was already in a class of its own. Brent patterned the traditional 3 panel layout after common email layouts, like Mailsmith, Outlook and Apple Mail. The general look and feel of NetNewsWire has been consistent ever since version 1, but it has certainly received a good spit and polish over the years.

Have a look…

Version 1.03 NetNewsWire 1.03 screenshot, showing the combined view

Version 2.0 NetNewsWire 2.0 screenshot

Version 3.0 NetNewsWire 3.0 screenshot

Version 3.1beta NetNewsWire 3.1 Screenshot

As of this writing wersion 3.1 is in the final beta stages of development. And even though it’s not a major x.0 release, Brent sure is treating it like one. (I suppose largely because of the upcoming release of NetNewsWire 3.1 Lite (the next big upgrade for the free Lite version which is currently still at 2.1.1.), and the software updates for compatibility with Leopard.)

When version 3.1 (Full and Lite) does come out of beta I imagine nearly every user will upgrade. Either to the for-pay version (3.1 Full) or the freeware version (3.1 Lite).

For those already using the 3.0 Full version the most obvious changes they’ll see in 3.1 are visual: The new toolbar icons and the Leopard style folders in the subscription list and site drawer. NetNewsWire 3.1's new Toolbar Look

Those who upgrade from 2.1.1 Lite to 3.1 Lite will discover much more than just spectacular visual changes.

I’m taking a complete shot in the dark, but my guess is that the number of NNW Lite users is more than double the amount of NNW Full users. Meaning that the vast majority of those who upgrade to 3.1 (Lite or Full) in the near future will be upgrading from 2.1.1 Lite or switching from another reader. Meaning a lot of people are all in for a real treat.

Top to bottom, NetNewsWire 3.1 Lite is primed to be the best, free news-reader available for Mac.

A Few of My Favorite Things

The majority of the strong, underlying features available in the current full version will also be available in the new Lite version. Just because it’s a free news-reader doesn’t mean it’s a wuss. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Here are a few of my favorite features that will be a part of the new NetNewsWire 3.1 Lite.

  • Syncing: I have a Mac Pro in my home office, a PowerBook that I use out of the office and on the road, and an iPhone that I use, well, all the stinkin’ time. NewsGator’s online feed reader syncs all the feeds and their groups, across Macs and on the iPhone NewsGator web app. All three locations are always in sync. Everyone together now: “Ahhhhhh…” Syncing via NewsGator is not your only option. You can also sync with .Mac or your own FTP server.
  • NetNewsWire Syncing Options
  • Spacebar: Similar to the “J” in Google Reader is the spacebar in NNW. You use the spacebar to take you to the next unread article and then to page down through the content of that article. If you start at the top of your feeds and hit nothing but the space bar you will work your way all the way down. Voila! I didn’t even know this feature existed until Brent listed it as his favorite in our interview. Although it’s not my favorite, the feedback I’ve heard from other’s tells me it’s popular.
  • The Way the Arrow Keys Work in The Traditional Layout: NetNewsWire’s traditional layout is similar to the layout of most email applications. The sites list is in the left hand window, the headlines are shown in the top right window, and the article content is displayed in the bottom right window. This is the layout I use because I read my articles by site, not as a compiled list of headlines.

    When using the traditional view, one thing I love is the way the arrow keys work. Using the arrow keys you can navigate anywhere you want. From the subscription list to the headlines, down the headlines to an article. Back to the list and so on and so forth. I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to do the same thing in Apple Mail only to get the error dong noise.

  • The Animated Arrow-Out to Permalinks: Sometimes it’s the little things.

    As odd as it sounds this was the main reason I bought NNW 3.0. I don’t read websites in the feed reader. I use NNW only for checking up on new content. When an article shows up that I want to read I “arrow out” to the website and read it there.

    I like the animated arrow-out for two reasons:

    1. It gives a visual response to the action of leaving the headline and going to the article. Since I have web-pages open up in the background in Safari it’s great to have that visual feedback.
    2. It’s very un-selfish. The whole structure of NNW is designed to serve the user and give them exactly what they want without making them feel as if they’re using it for something it wasn’t specifically intended for.
    This is most likely exactly the type of feeling Brent was looking to develop with his software.

    In Brent’s interview with John Gruber in 2005, John asked if Brent had ever considered limiting the number of subscriptions in the Lite version of NNW. Brent’s reply:

    For maybe one second. I hate limits like that. It’s one thing to not have an entire feature like the Weblog Editor, but quite another thing to arbitrarily limit the number of subscriptions. Doing that would, in my mind, make the Lite version no more than an advertisement for the Pro version.

    The animated arrow is a positive, visual feedback given when leaving the application. And even though it’s just a small element when compared to the whole program, it is a dynamic statement of the way NNW is built: to serve the user.

  • The New Toolbar Icons: In previous versions, the toolbar icons were designed by Bryan Bell and John Hicks.

    But Bobby Anderson designed the new icons for version 3.1 and I think he did a fantastic job. They’re much cleaner and less clunky.

    And simply by looking at the new “Refresh All” button and comparing it to version 2′s, you can see that Mr. Anderson did his homework.

    The new toolbar icons in NNW 3.1
  • Rands’ First Law of Information Management Which reads: “For each new piece of information you track, there is an equally old and useless piece of information you must throw away.” (via)

    By continually adding new feeds to your subscription list, you’ll eventually reach such a point of information overload that you end up losing the very purpose for which you first began reading websites. (That is of course, unless you want to simply scan the headlines of hundreds and hundreds of articles, in which case you must be very happy about the space bar feature.)

    Eventually you have to get rid of some feeds. I clean my subscriptions out every few months. NetNewsWire has made it more than easy. Click on “Window” > “Feed Reports” > “Dinosaurs” / “Most Attention” / “Least Attention” / “Bandwith Usage”.

    The Dinosaurs report tells you who hasn’t updated in 30 days, the Attention report lets you know what sites you give the most attention to and what sites you give the least attention to. Bandwidth report tells you which feeds are the bulkiest.

  • The Sites Drawer: Click on “View” > “Show Sites Drawer” and you have access to hundreds of sites. Chances are pretty good that several of the sites you’re already reading are in the drawer.

The Pay-For Full Version

NetNewsWire Lite is a fantastic app, and I have no doubt that many people will see no need to pay for the full version. Before I met Brent, I knew very little about the Apple indie developers community and even less about the time and energy they put into their software. But now I’m sure that supporting great software and the people who make it is a worthy cause.

If you want more than just a worthy cause, here are a few of the extra features you’ll find in the Full version of NetNewsWire.

  • Flagging: You can flag items and they stay in the reader forever. I use this all the time to highlight articles that I want to come back to for reference.
  • Tabbed Browswer: You can open web pages directly in NetNewsWire. And these tabs save themselves even if you close NNW. This is great for opening an article’s homepage within NNW, but coming back to read it later.
  • Interface Options: The widescreen, three-column view and the combined view. I prefer to use the traditional.
  • Search: You can search the feeds within NetNewsWire, you can search on Google, Google Images, and more. Including the new HTML Archive.
  • NetNewsWire's new search feature: HTML Archives
  • HTML Archiving: This is one of the new features in the Full version that I suspect most people will not notice, or simply skip over when they upgrade. In previous versions you could only keep articles long-term if you flagged them, and you could only search feeds that were currently cached in NNW. But that is no longer the case. From the NNW Beta page Release Notes –
    NetNewsWire can now store news items on disk as separate HTML files. The idea is to give people a way to archive and save stuff without having to keep it in NetNewsWire. The fewer news items in NetNewsWire’s storage, the better it performs. This feature is designed to give you a way to keep an archive without having it hurt NetNewsWire’s performance.
    The obvious benefit of the HTML archive is that it’s searchable because a local copy of every article is kept indefinitely on your hard drive. This is fantastic if you want to find something that was read several months ago, and you don’t have internet access. A potential issue is that the archive takes up its fair share of disc space. With just the feeds that were in my reader the archive folder weighs in at 12MB. And I don’t even have that many subscriptions.

UPDATE: NetNewsWire is now free. You can download it here.

More Reviews

This is just one of a handful of winded and entertaining software reviews.

Jstamant: “Be It Resolved”

After not posting for the past several months, Jon-Michael is back and shares his new vision for writing with this article here.

There are too many good lines to quote. You ought to just read the article yourself and hopefully glean something from JM’s own resolve. It’s guys like this that make the web a better place. And you might as well add his feed to your list. You’ll be glad you did.

A Series of Reviews: Some of The Greatest Software Available For Your Mac

“In Mac OS X, you vote with your dock.”Michael Lopp

Who doesn’t love great software? I wanted to write these reviews for two reasons: (a) I love to brag on the things I use and enjoy, and (b) perhaps you’ll find something you can spend your lunch money on.

The apps I’ll be reviewing are:

  1. NetNewsWire – Arguably the best desktop feed reader on the planet.
  2. Mint – The site stats application for people who love great (and tasty) things.
  3. Transmit – Yellow Cab, Purple Box, FTP. What more could you ask for?
  4. Coda – The One-Window Wonder.
  5. MarsEdit – Helping the Personal Publishing Revolution.
  6. SuperDuper! – Hard drive backup for mere mortals.
  7. iCal – People think I actually remember all my meetings.
  8. Apple Mail – You’ve got mail!
  9. My Task Notebook – How I get things done every day. (UPDATE: Not any more.)

The first five are related to this site, and I thought it would make sense to “start here” and work my way “out”. The sixth app, SuperDuper!, is sort-of in a class of it’s own within the list, so I thought I’d put it in the middle.

The final three are free apps (heck, one isn’t even an application at all), but since I use them constantly I thought I would share a bit of how I use them.

The Early Adopter Paradox

(I wanted to link to Brett’s article yesterday when I read it but I couldn’t think of a reason why and I didn’t want to just quote something. But when I read Cameron’s reason for linking I realized that’s exactly why I wanted to link to it. So, with out further adieu…)

Brett’s Article is here: The Early Adopter Paradox

And Cameron Hunt said: “Good article by Brett Peters about non-techies as the best iPhone salespeople. It’s really amazing, and I’ve seen it happen as well.”

MacApper Review of MarsEdit

Michael Mistretta’s Review of MarsEdit on MacApper -

…MarsEdit still beats all of the online blogging solutions hands-down. With it’s strong feature-set, ability to manage multiple blogs from one dedicated app, and offline freedom, MarsEdit is an app that is completely worth it’s $29.95 pricetag, and will make any blogger more productive, more creative, and more involved with their blog.

Great minds think must think alike as I too am writing a review on MarsEdit.

I Love Typography: Desktops

I don’t know about you but I change my desktop about once a week. If I find a really good wallpaper then I might keep it for a month. Not that I have a rule about changing my wallpaper, I just like to.

To put my Cinema Display in the Christmas Spirit I’ve had 1920×1200 pixels of Kevin Cornell’s Christmas-style Desktops up all month. And speaking of which, he just put up a new one, and wow. Kevin is talented.

All this to say that thanks to Bill, I just came across these I Love Typography Desktop Wallpapers, and a few of them will be making their way into the rotation.

(mt) Gift Card

Give the Gift of (mt) Web Hosting.

(mt) Media Temple Hosting Card

$95 for a year of hosting on their (gs) Grid Service Lite. These guys are awesome, and this is a really good deal.

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

I’ve always been a John Mayer fan, and Slow Dancing in a Burning Room, from his Continuum, has been at the top of my playlist for a while.

How Time Machine Does and Doesn’t Work

Tom Yager on How Leopard Time Machine Works, and How it Doesn’t -

As Apple presents the Time Machine filesystem view, you can see your system approximately: As it was at the top of each hour today. As it was each day for the past 30 days, starting yesterday. As it was each week, starting 31 days ago, going back as far as disk space permits. A distraught user might only be interested in the amount of data he may have lost: If you accidentally deleted a file today, you lose up to an hour’s work If you deleted it between yesterday and 30 days ago, you lose up to a day’s work If you deleted it more than 30 days ago, you can lose up to one week’s work, or all of it.

I never gave too much thought to Time Machine (I guess that’s the point?), but I assumed that when it folded the daily archives into the weekly archives it would keep all the files from the daily archives and turn them into one weekly archive.

For example: I don’t keep files on my desktop longer than a few hours usually. So say each day a file gets kept in Time Machine’s backup of my desktop folder. Then when it folds those seven days into the one weekly backup, I assumed that all seven files would be grouped together as what my desktop looked like that week. Apparently, that’s not the case.

I installed a 2nd internal HDD on my Mac Pro to act as my Time Machine backup, but other than surfing around in Time Machine I haven’t actually needed to use it.

I’m really not too concerned though. I still have my old backup strategy in place with one change: I only backup to my external FireWire drive once a week now, instead of every night.

Google For iPhone

Google Launched its iPhone Web App Today -

Today, Google announced the release of a new iPhone application that integrates its multiple services into a single interface, making it easy for iPhone users to find, use and switch between Google search, Gmail, Calendar, Reader, and more. To use the application, iPhone users simply point their web browser to http://www.google.com.

If I used Google applications more often this would be fantastic. At first glance Gmail, Reader and Calendar all have a very slick and iPhone optimized layout.

Creative Design Poverty

This December the ministry I work for is hosting our annual young-adult conference. Last year we had 15,000 show up to our “living room”. This year we’re expecting 20,000, and it’s an all-hands-on-deck event to say the least. Every department is working at 110% to get their end of things ready.

For the past few years I have been the stage manager. Which means I make sure weird people don’t go on stage in their underwear with “I Heart God” written on their chest. It’s times like those that having a black belt comes in handy – which is why I was chosen for the job to begin with.

But this year stage managing isn’t my only job. Since I now work for the marketing department as a print designer I have an additional role this year. I’ve dubbed it “Official Creator of All Advertisements For the Conference Magazine”. Whereby “Conference Magazine” I’m talking about a 76 page booklet called the “Communicator”. It has all the information that could possibly be interesting to any one of the 20,000 college age folks attending our 4 day conference. Things like schedules, interviews, frequently asked questions, products for sale and how to grow a chia pet.

Needless to say, the past few weeks have been busy for all of us in the marketing department as we pull together information and feedback from all the departments and try to sort it into an intelligent, cohesive product.

But it has also been challenging to me in a unique way. The 16ish pages I’m in charge of consist of the advertisements for various departments around the ministry. For instance the high school ministry is hosting a conference next summer, so they need an ad. There is a new book out that the bookstore wants to sell. A new CD. A new teaching series. Etc… Each of these products and events need special treatment and some TLC while staying within the design style guidelines. My strong distaste for the “that’ll do” status-quo has forced me to think outside the box. And I have to admit that I don’t feel I have designed at a level I feel proud of.

Having to work on several simultaneous projects all with a short deadline and strict guidelines brought me to a new realization of my poverty in creativity and imagination. Programs do not a designer make.

The creative arts are a beautiful thing. With them we can share our own emotion and draw out the emotion of others. We can impart messages of hope, love, sorrow, joy and sobriety. There is much more to design than white space, the two-thirds rule, and font selection. Those tricks and elements surely help when we’re stuck, but I know for certain that they are not what real creative design is all about. I look at the elements and standards of good design as the launching pad to what creative design is really about: Creating.